The Waste Land (04) – translating foreign language lines


I’m spending the next 6 months reading The Waste Land and exploring it, its meaning, its references, its context and its place in (modern?) culture.

In my last post I outlined my plan for approaching this project, noting there are some basics to cover. This post therefore looks at translating the foreign language lines throughout The Waste Land. We don’t here yet explore what the meaning of the lines is or the wider work from where they’re taken, nor why Eliot chose to use foreign language to express them.

A note on process: where Eliot makes specific reference to the foreign language lines in his notes, then I have allowed myself to find a relevant copy of the text online. My thinking here is that I could as easily find a copy of the given title in a library, but physically accessing a library would extend the project by several months! Where, though, there is no reference in Eliot’s notes then I have not simply searched for it. This goes back to part of my original reason for undertaking this project: “to create some space, focus and flow for myself in one tiny area of the physical and mental worlds”.

Now, to the translations.

The epigraph

I’m actually going to deal with the epigraph in a separate post. It’s in Latin and Greek, and is not alluded to in any of Eliot’s notes. Part of the challenge I’ve set myself in this project is not simply to Google an answer – there must be a process of discovery – so I am trying to find a translation of the epigraph and from where it’s taken via separate means.

 For Ezra Pound

il miglior fabbro

This Italian translates as “the better maker” and refers to the fact that Ezra Pound supported Eliot closely in how he structured the poem, and indeed gave it its title. I discovered this through reading Peter Watson’s A Terrible Beauty, which I realise now is where I first substantively came across The Waste Land.

(A note for later study is to understand better the role Ezra Pound played in the creation of The Waste Land.)

Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aust Litauen, echt deutsch (12)

Not referred to in Eliot’s notes, I assume that Eliot wrote this himself and have translated this line myself to be: “I am not Russian, but Lithuanian – true German”

Frisch weht der Wind / Der Heimat zu / Mein Irisch Kind, wo weilest du? (31-34)

Cited in Eliot’s notes as being lines 5-8 of Act I of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. A common translation has these lines as:

Fresh blows the Wind

towards home

My Irish Child

where are you now?

(A note for later study is to find out more about Tristan und Isolde)

Oed’ und leer das Meer

Also cited in Eliot’s notes as being from Tristan und Isolde – line 24 of Act III, translating as:

Desolate and void the sea!


“You! hypocrite lecteur!–mon semblable,–mon frere!” (76)

Cited in Eliot’s notes as being from the (poem) preface to Baudelaire’s Fleurs de Mal (Flowers of Evil), this translates as:

you — hypocrite Reader — my double — my brother!




Et O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole! (202)

I could have had a stab at this French – children’s voices singing somewhere or other. Fortunately, Eliot notes the source in his notes: Verlaine’s poem Parsifal. It translates as:

And, O these children’s voices singing in the dome!

Although we are not yet exploring the meaning of these foreign language lines, we should note here in the rest of Parsifal an explicit reference to the Holy Grail (“As priest-king and guardian of the sacred treasure / In golden robe he worships that sign of grace / The pure vessel in which shines the Holy Blood”). Parsifal is also the name of another Wagner opera (as is Tristan und Isolde) – there’s much here to get into later.


Datta (402), Dayadhvam (412), Damyata (419) (and again together at 433)

The translation is given by Eliot himself in his notes as:

Give, sympathise, control



Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina (428)

Cited in Eliot’s notes as being from Dante’s Purgatory, line 148 of canto 26, and translates as:

Then, in the fire that refines, he hid


Quando fiam uti chelidon (429)

Eliot’s notes cite this line from Pervigilium Veneris and he probably meant to refer to the translation as:

When shall I become like a swallow


Le Prince d’Aquitaine a la tour abolie (430)

Again, my secondary level French may well have sufficed for this one (a Prince, a destroyed tower), but Eliot kindly provides a note to point us in the direction of El Desdichado by Gerard de Nerval. The translation is:

The Aquitaine Prince whose tower is destroyed


Shantih shantih shantih (434)

Given by Eliot in his notes to mean “The Peace which passeth understanding”.

So we have a literal understanding of what the foreign language lines of The Waste Land mean – a good start. We’ve also begun to create a reading list of sources from which Eliot drew direct inspiration (Wagnerian opera, Dante’s Divine Comedy, some Sanskrit texts). Before we explore their specific meanings, what the meanings of the works they’re taken from is, and why they’re used in a foreign form, we’ll carry on looking at some other basics, too, continuing next with the characters referenced throughout.


The Waste Land (03) – outline plan


I’m spending the next 6 months reading The Waste Land and exploring it, its meaning, its references, its context and its place in (modern?) culture.

After outlining my reflections from a first read – summarised into themes and dimensions – now is the time to plan on how to approach the rest of the project.

As I noted before, I would feel most comfortable getting into the dimensions of The Waste Land: considerations such as structure, rhyme, languages, perspectives etc. But form follows function, and it feels like I’d be taking the more straightforward route if I focused on these (relatively) easier dimensions rather than grapple with Eliot’s meaning. I must, therefore, start with meaning and themes and then seek to understand how the rest magnifies these.

Before this, though, there are some basics to cover. There are lines in foreign languages (the epigraph is in Latin, the dedication in Greek, passages in French and German, and a smattering of Sanskrit) to be translated. There are characters to understand (at least in the first instance; for example, who are Belladonna, Tiresias, Phlebas the Phoenician, Philomel, Cupidon) and what does Eliot mean by invoking them? And there are locations to place (Starnbergersee, the London locations, Carthage, Margate).

Some time should first be spent, therefore, building this basic knowledge.

From there, it feels most natural to work through Eliot’s own notes to further elucidate his meanings. This will particularly require reading “From Ritual to Romance” by Jessie L. Weston (cited by Eliot as the inspiration for the title, plan and much of the symbolism of The Waste Land), as well as “The Golden Bough” (a book I’ve heard of, at least, if not read or know much about).

I think we’ll be getting somewhere if we do these things, and will also generate a better idea of what to pursue in light of the results. Off we go!

Three pieces on Future Labour


I continue to struggle in the aftermath of Brexit.

Not, necessarily, just because of the result – it was a long time coming, and perhaps has woken the individualised and consumerised winners of the last 30 years from their torpor.

But also because of where it leaves Labour – stuck, somewhere, fighting the battles of the 20th century.

I’m not sufficiently informed, connected or clever enough to know where the Labour party should go and to offer a view on where the destination is and how to get there. There’s also little I feel I can personally do to help steer or jump on board with where Labour should go. I do know, though, that (1) I have been a Labour party member since 1998; (2) even now, I’m not sure if there is another “party” I would want to belong to; and (3) the current party cannot be or do what it should.

I therefore continue to look for the best diagnoses of Labour’s current situation in order to understand it as well as I can, and for glimpses of what the future could be and how Labour might plot a course to get there.

Three pieces I’ve found particularly useful of late are from John Harris, Neal Lawson and Anthony Painter. Here they are on where we are:

1. John Harris in the Guardian:

As with the centre-left parties across Europe in the same predicament, Labour is a 20th-century party adrift in a new reality. Its social foundations – the unions, heavy industry, the nonconformist church, a deference to the big state that has long evaporated – are either in deep retreat or have vanished completely.

2. Neal Lawson on Open Democracy

Everything that once made Labour strong and the 1945 settlement possible; a unified working class, a bureaucratic system of governance (Fordism), memories of the war and the depression and the existence of the Soviet Union as a global counter to capitalism had gone. They have been replaced by forces inimical to traditional social democracy, namely financialisation, globalsiation, individualization and consumerisation. Labour, I argued, was a ‘Kodak party in a world of instagram’.

3. Anthony Painter:

The point is that the working class – Labour’s alleged base – is irrevocably split. Moreover, there is no going back now. The schism is permanent.

And here they are on where to go.

John Harris:

The left’s future will involve many Labour people, but also some in the Greens, Liberal Democrats – even one-nation Tories – and thousands of people with no affiliation at all. However it is organised, it will have to start with an understanding of the fact this is a crisis of democracy, and support a change to the electoral system and a move towards multi-party politics.

Neal Lawson:

[We] must recognize that no single party or movement has all the answers. The future will not be imposed but negotiated. Most immediately it needs to be negotiated by all the progressive parties in a Progressive Alliance to try and counter the massive shift to the right we are experiencing.

Anthony Painter:

Instead of expending energy on saving Labour, something entirely new is needed. Labour was a movement before it was a party and so should whatever replaces it from within or without be.

This movement would seek to build from the cities out. It would embrace pluralist progressives – from the remain labour working classes to social liberals. It would be a movement that sought to build the right networks and platforms for social justice.

A movement of citizens that would over time seek elected office, it would espouse democratic, economic and social reform…

This movement would demand a new social contract; the current state fails to support the reality of modern economic life and leaves families and whole communities locked in insecurity and poverty. These would be new platforms for economic security such as Basic Income and social mobility. Security and mobility would be seen as dependent upon one another- holding no one back, leaving no one behind.

“Software is eating the world”

Quoted here, from which also this:

The connected world we’re building may resemble a computer system, but really it’s just the regular old world from before, with a bunch of microphones and keyboards and flat screens sticking out of it. And it has the same old problems.

Evgeny Morozov would agree.

The Waste Land project (02) – first read


“It’s all Latin to me.”

“No no. I think you’ll find it’s also Greek, German, French and Sanskrit.”


So formally begins my project to spend the next 6 months reading The Waste Land and exploring it, its meaning, its references, its context and its place in (modern?) culture.

I knew enough to understand this was going to be a personal challenge – why set the task of the project otherwise? – but a first detailed reading shows just how long and steep this climb is going to be.


As we approach the end of June (one month gone already! There’s been a lot happening, which goes to show how difficult the pull of news and events and life can be, especially when a further intention of this project is specifically to create some space, focus and flow for myself in one tiny area of the physical and mental worlds) I have read The Waste Land in detail three times. After my first read I wrote down the themes and dimensions of the poem that I could see, all of which have many questions associated with them.

To try and provide some structure to how I’ll get into The Waste Land, below are these very initial notes and some associated questions.


Themes, or meaning

Knowing what The Waste Land means is the whole point of this, really, so I can’t expect myself to capture and understand all of the themes and meaning of it in one go! The themes I have detected so far, though, are:

  • Time and seasons
  • Geography and nature
  • Reality and mysticism
  • Our everyday lives against the tide of humanity

There will be others.

There’s not much point expanding on these just now, so I won’t.


These feel to me more like the technical aspects of the poem – how it achieves its effects and conveys its themes. They seem to include:

  • Perspectives and relationships – it’s hard to know exactly who is talking or is being talked about at any given point of the poem. Who are the characters? Why are the characters? What do the different perspectives bring?
  • Structure – why is The Waste Land structured as it is? What is the purpose of this and what effect does it create? How does this compare to other poetry of the time?
  • Rhyme and repetition – sometimes there, sometimes not. Why?
  • Language(s) – there are at least six languages used in the poem. What are the translations? Why are different languages used? What does a different language add that the English equivalent couldn’t convey? What motivates the inclusion of an additional barrier to understanding the poem?
  • Humour – unexpected, but definitely there. To what end?

What next?

It’s not much, but it’s a start.

It is probably to be expected, but I feel more comfortable in thinking about the dimensions of The Waste Land rather than its themes. As someone with an untrained eye for poetry (and literature more generally) there is an element of comfort in questioning the practicalities of the poem rather than grappling with its themes. This, alas, will have to change.

But for now this will suffice. The question in my mind, though, is how to progress now? – a question I’ll return to in a further post.




Remembering “Rise of the Meritocracy” was a satire


From the New Statesman:

But I am also a big problem. People like me, who get educated and quickly head off to London when things aren’t going our way. We invested in ourselves, sometimes at state expense, and never really thought about putting that back into the places where we grew up.

There weren’t the right opportunities back home and that still stands. But, rather than doing something about that, people like me lazily joined the gravy train for London and now we’re surprised we feel more kinship with a 20-something from Norway than we do with someone who we used to knock on for when we should have been at school.

Reading this reminded me that Michael Young intended his 1958 essay “The Rise of the Meritocracy” as satire, not as a platform for policy. As the Economist noted:

Young… conjured up an image of a society obsessed with talent. The date was 2034, and psychologists had perfected the art of IQ testing. But far from promoting social harmony, the preoccupation with talent had produced social breakdown. The losers in the talent wars were doubly unhappy, conscious not only that they were failures but that they deserved to be failures. Eventually they revolted against their masters.

The vote to leave the EU feels precisely like a revolt by the “losers in the talent wars” against their masters.

Young, at least, offered a positive vision for what it could, should be like:

“In the light of this approach [they] sought to give a new meaning to equality of opportunity.

“[It] should not mean equal opportunity  to rise up in the social scale, but equal opportunity for all people, irrespective of their ‘intelligence’, to develop the virtues and talents with which they are endowed, all their capacities for appreciating the beauty and depth of human experience, all their potential for living life to the full.

“The child, every child, is a precious individual, not just a potential functionary of society. The schools should not be tied to the occupational structure, bent on turning  out people for the jobs at any particular moment considered important, but should be devoted to encouraging all human talents, whether or not these are of the kind needed in a scientific world. The arts and manual skills should be given as much prominence as science and technology.

“[All] schools should have enough good teachers so that all children should have individual care and stimulus. They could then develop at their own pace to their own particular fulfilment. The schools would not segregate the like but mingle the unlike; by promoting diversity within unity, they would teach respect for the infinite human differences which are not the least of mankind’s virtues. The schools would not regard children as shaped once and for all by Nature, but as a combination of potentials which can be cultivated by Nurture.”



Resilience is recovery

We often take a militaristic, “tough” approach to resilience and grit. We imagine a Marine slogging through the mud, a boxer going one more round, or a football player picking himself up off the turf for one more play. We believe that longer we tough it out, the tougher we are, and therefore the more successful we will be.

This from Harvard Business Review, which then goes on to note:

The key to resilience is trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again.

I couldn’t agree more.

It’s something I’ve most explicitly learnt from running – maximum progress and improvement occurs when you push yourself at most once a week, and build in appropriate recovery runs around this, leading to strong development over time.

It’s also something I’m learning more through work. You can’t simply keep bashing away at something and wondering why it won’t give. You have to take stock, recover, reflect and “strategically stop”, in order to be able to tweak, amend and alter the intensity of your approach.

Either way, resilience is in the recovery.